L2C Challenge – Mandy’s Gourmet Salads – BOOK REVIEW!

If you have ever been to Mandy’s Café in Montreal, then this book needs no introduction because you already know the recipes will be great.

If you’ve never been then you’re missing out! But, fear not, this book is actually a close second to the real thing!

Mandy’s was established by 2 sisters in Montreal back in 2004. Today, it has 8 locations around the Greater Montreal area and they now have 400 employees! Keeping true to their style, this book is aesthetically beautiful – the cover is the perfect shade of pink and the images make any vegetable look appetizing.

The book is set up much the same way as their café menus – chapters are divided into Smoothies, Salads, Dressings, Grain Bowls and Sweets.

While the recipes in this book are all great (except for anything involving hearts of palm (no thank you!)), what has stuck with me is the desire to forever have a salad bar in my fridge! Each week, instead of prepping only what the recipe called for, I would just chop up all of the vegetables and make extra meat so that I could have several salads throughout the week. I found that I was more likely to eat the vegetables if they were already prepped and quick to assemble. I think if this book teaches us anything, it is that we all need a Mandy’s Salad Bar in our fridge!

My only regret this month is that I didn’t get a chance to taste the “Sweets” Chapter but the good thing about having a cookbook obsession is that I own the book and get to go back to it any time I want! I definitely plan to keep this one at arms’ reach.

Next Month’s L2C Challenge Cookbook:

If you’ve been following along on our house building journey, you likely know we are hoping to move into our forever home at the end of this month. And, assuming you haven’t been living under a rock, you likely also know that there are currently huge production and supply delays on appliances. So, I will be taking a break from my own Learn to Cook Challenge until we are settled in our new home and we have appliances to store food in and cook on!

Until then, I hope my little personal challenge inspires you to do the same!

L2C Challenge – Mandy’s Gourmet Salads – Keto Salad

This week – KETO SALAD (p. 127) [also Roasted Chicken Breast (p. 149) and Keto Caesar Dressing (p. 156)]

After having Theo, the Keto diet is the only thing that worked to get the extra weight off. In 2020, between being pregnant, being at home during the pandemic and then being at home with Luca, needless to say that I have not been eating healthy for a very long time and that I will have to work extra hard to lose the baby weight this time around; so, I am trying to get back on the Keto train. Lucky for me, Mandy’s cookbook includes a recipe for a Keto Salad!

Ingredients –

  • Mesclun greens
  • Avocado
  • Cucumber
  • Button mushrooms
  • Sliced canned hearts of palm
  • Skinless boneless chicken breast
  • Bacon
  • Lemon juice
  • Dijon mustard

  • Olive oil
  • Montreal steak spice
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Scallion
  • Basil leaves
  • Tarragon leave
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Eggs
  • Garlic

Difficulty Level –

Like all of the salads and dressings that I have made, this recipe is another easy one although I still found a way to make a mistake… In order to make the dressing Keto friendly, the recipe calls for the mayonnaise to be replaced by raw eggs but, for some reason, the dressing was very liquid – not the same consistency as the caesar dressing that I am used to.

Alterations to Recipe –

Still don’t like mushrooms, so I omitted those!

I used turkey bacon instead of regular bacon because that is what I had on hand.

Verdict –

I’ve never had hearts of palm before, so I was happy to try something new! Now that I’ve tried it, it’s not for me!

Maybe it’s because the salad dressing was too watery or maybe it’s because I didn’t like the hearts of palm but this has definitely been my least liked salad thus far.

Verdict for me – not to be repeated!

L2C Challenge – Mandy’s Gourmet Salads – The Fave

This week: THE FAVE (p. 53) [also Homemade Pita Chips (p. 150) and Honey Mustard Dressing (p. 170)]

I wasn’t too sure that this recipe would fill me since it’s lacking the protein that my other two recipes had but I wanted to try a salad with a dressing that I haven’t (and probably would never have) made before.

Ingredients –

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli florets
  • Corn kernels
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pitas
  • EVOO

  • Shredded carrots
  • Parmesan flakes
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Honey
  • Dijon mustard
  • Sunflower oil

Difficulty Level –

Another easy recipe for the win. Ingredients were simple and mainly things I tend to have on hand anyway.

Things I Googled While Making this Recipe –

Nothing! There isn’t much to research with these clean ingredients.

Alterations to Recipe –

My grocery store didn’t have any broccoli florets in stock so I just omitted them from the dish. While I didn’t miss the broccoli in this salad, I actually really like raw florets so I would add them the next time I make this recipe.

Verdict –

I wasn’t sold on the first few bites – the dressing was sweeter than I like – but half way through I was hooked. A very fresh and savoury recipe. Next time around, I may add some meat source just for added substance.

Two bowls because the Mister saw mine and wanted some but I wasn’t about to share!

L2C Challenge – Mandy’s Gourmet Salads – Lumberjack Salad

This week – LUMBERJACK SALAD (p. 57) [also Roasted Chicken Breast (p. 149); Homemade Pita Chips (p. 150); and Caesar Dressing (p. 156)]

Full disclosure – I chose this recipe because I had some left over sliced turkey that I needed to use up. Plus, I’ve always wanted to make my own pita chips!

Ingredients –

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Avocado
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • White mushroom caps
  • Chicken Breast
  • Bacon
  • Sliced turkey
  • Pita bread
  • Montreal Steak spice
  • Mozarella cheese
  • Scallion
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Mayonnaise
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Dijon mustard

Difficulty Level –

Every salad in this book has at least 2 (usually more) recipes within one – you have the main salad bowl, the meat and the dressing. I actually love that it’s divided that way because I can prep things at my own pace (sometimes even the day before…). Difficulty level for this one is a ZERO, straight forward and simple (and kinda fun!). Plus, we all know how much I love leftovers, it makes me feel as though my “hard work” continues to pay off during the week… This recipe was no exception – the roasted chicken breast recipe is enough for 6 salads, the salad dressing recipes yield about 2 cups each and, in this case, there was lots left over from the pita chips recipe.

Things I Googled While Making this Recipe –

  • Difference between scallions and green onions? They’re the same! Different stores just use different names because apparently keeping things consistent would not be fun…

Alterations to Recipe –

  • I’ve tried (repeatedly) to like mushrooms but I just don’t – so I omitted the white mushroom caps.
  • I didn’t have any pork bacon on hand so I used turkey bacon instead.

Verdict –

Delicious! When I was putting this salad together, I honestly kept thinking of the saying “everything and the kitchen sink!”… It felt like I just kept adding meats and veggies together. Somehow, it all works!

Would I make this salad again? Absolutely. Would I make the caesar dressing again? Meh… It was good and paired well with the other ingredients but it was certainly not better than the store bought caesar dressings that I usually get from Costco so not sure it was worth the time (although you can whip it up in under 2 minutes).

L2C Challenge – Mandy’s Gourmet Salads – Tokyo Salad

This week – TOKYO SALAD (p. 49) [also Roasted Chicken Breast (p. 149) and Tamari Salad Dressing (p. 155)]

Ok, I know that some may think that picking a salad book for my cooking challenge is cheating, but it’s not!!! Most of the recipes in Mandy’s Gourmet Salads have a cooked meat or substitute component and I have to make the dressing from scratch so, in my books, that constitutes “cooking”.

I chose to start with the Tokyo Salad because the ingredients (except for chicken, of course) were raw and it was all things that I could use again throughout the week – so no waste.

Ingredients –

  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Mesclun Greens
  • Carrot
  • Red Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cucumber
  • Garlic

  • Tofu (used chicken instead)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Red Onion
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Tamari
  • Nutritional Yeast Flakes
  • Montreal Steak Spice
  • EVOO, salt and pepper

Difficulty level –

Full disclosure – I bought shredded carrots and broccoli florets, thereby reducing my prep time. I did, however, shred the cabbage myself (for the very first time!).

This salad has three recipes in one (a recipe for the actual gourmet salad, for the chicken, and for the dressing) and all of them are straightforward and easy to make.

Things I Googled While Making this Recipe –

  • What are mesclun greens? It’s a mix of chervil, arugula, leafy lettuces and endive.
  • What are nutritional yeast flakes? (I was more interested in seeing what the package looked like so that I knew what to look for in the grocery store!)

Alterations to Recipe –

I am not a fan of Tofu, so I substituted it with Mandy’s Roasted Chicken Breast recipe – it is delicious and makes enough for 6 salads, which left me with plenty for the rest of the week.

I didn’t have Montreal Steak spice, so I used The Keg spice mix instead.

The recipe calls for black and white sesame seeds; I used the white sesame seeds that I had toasted for a previous recipe and it tasted great!

Verdict –

The Tahini dressing was amazing; I used it all week. The chicken was moist and the Keg spice gave it the perfect taste. Plus, I had enough chopped up vegetables that I was able to make several salad meals. I literally looked forward to lunch almost everyday this week because of how fresh and flavourful this dish is.

And, it’s official, I think I am FOREVER going to have a salad bar in my fridge! Every day this week, I just grabbed a bowl, opened my fridge and mixed all of the veggies that I had already prepped and stored in there. Throw in the chicken (that I had already cubed), add some seeds, pour the dressing and lunch is served!

100% a make-again recipe.

L2C Challenge – Jamie Oliver 7 Ways – BOOK REVIEW!

Jamie Oliver is such an entertaining chef to watch on television; somehow, he makes cooking look so simple and fun. When I purchased his latest cookbook, I hoped that it would provide the same energy and inspiration but, while it was great, I’m not sure I would keep watching if the “7 Ways” book was a television show…

In this book, the chapters are divided by commonly used ingredients (referred to as “hero ingredients”) – such as chicken breast, avocado, broccoli, salmon, etc. – and then each chapter provides 7 recipes using the “hero ingredient”; in other words, each chapter provides 7 ways of cooking with a specific ingredient.

The concept of the book is great; I didn’t have to filter through every page to find something I liked. Instead, if I knew we were having chicken for dinner, I just looked up the chapters that listed chicken. I think most people would enjoy this layout and I particularly appreciated that each recipe includes an image of every ingredient within that recipe (it helped to figure out what I was looking for when I went grocery shopping).

The flip side is that there are obviously popular ingredients that I don’t like – such as mushrooms and sweet potatoes. Since it is unlikely that someone would enjoy every single one of the 18 hero ingredients, there will probably be whole chapters within this book that won’t appeal to you.

Every recipe that I made from this book exceeded expectations in terms of simplicity, flavour and taste. Each week, I even received a thumbs up from both Paolo and Theo – my two toughest critics.

So why would I not watch “7 Ways” if it was a television series instead of a cookbook? Honestly, for me, the book lacked enticement. While the recipes ended up being delicious, I was never enthused about making them. When I was earmarking recipes for the previous two cookbooks in this challenge, I was getting hungry just looking through the books but I didn’t get hungry with Jamie’s 7 Ways. It felt practical but mundane. Does it meet its purpose? Yes – it provides easy and delicious recipes throughout. Would I reach for this cookbook again? Probably not – this one will likely be filed on the top (somewhat out of reach) shelf for me.

Next Month’s L2C Challenge Cookbook:

Something about the summer months has me craving fresh big salads more than any other time of year. So this month, I am going to try to step up my lettuce game by learning how to make some of Mandy’s amazing gourmet salads!

The Mandy’s cookbook is based on the actual “Mandy’s” salad bars that originated in my hometown of Montreal, Quebec. It was established by two sisters back in 2004 and has grown to over 8 stylish locations across Montreal and they now sell come very cute merchandise – including some colourful large bowls that I will be putting to good use next month!

L2C Challenge – Jamie Oliver 7 Ways – Crispy Salmon Tacos

This week – CRISPY SALMON TACOS (p. 96)

Since Jamie’s book is divided by ingredient, I thought it appropriate to venture out of the chicken chapter and try (for the very first time!) to make fish. I figured that anything in a tortilla with mangoes and avocados would be delicious; so, even if I screw up the fish, the other flavours could still make it taste great!

Ingredients –

  • Salmon fillets (skin on, scaled, pin-boned)
  • Tortillas
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Mango
  • Avocado
  • Scallions
  • Cajun seasoning
  • Limes

Difficulty level –

In true Jamie fashion, this recipe is very simple and something that even the most novice of cooks (like me!) can make. My only difficulty was removing the skin from the salmon – you have to cut it very thinly and I over cut in some sections.

Things I Googled While Making this Recipe –

Nothing! I am getting ssooo good at cooking! Or maybe it’s the fact that the instructions were straight forward. Either way, Google was not consulted in the making of this recipe.

Alterations to Recipe –

Jamie suggests toasting the tortillas directly over the flame of a gas range but, since we don’t have a gas range in our rental home, I just heated them in the microwave. They weren’t “toasty” but still worked well.

Verdict

I made fish and it tasted GREAT! The combination of sweetness from the mango and the tangy taste of the cajun spice paired perfectly; plus, the texture from the avocado and the crispy salmon skin makes this a perfect dish that I would never have known or thought to make.

Definitely a “make again” dish.

L2C Challenge – Jamie Oliver 7 Ways – Crispy Golden Chicken

This week – CRISPY GOLDEN CHICKEN (p. 74)

So clearly, I have a type… it’s called chicken! I chose to play it safe this week and stayed in the poultry chapter. This one looked appetizing since it combines bacon, avocado and some hot sauce!

Ingredients –

  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Bacon
  • Avocado
  • Plain yogurt
  • Lemon
  • Flour
  • Sourdough breadcrumbs
  • Hot sauce

Difficulty level –

This was another simple recipe but I still managed to make some mistakes… The instructions required the chicken to be flattened but my rolling pin is still packed away (home building life!), so I thought pressing really hard with the bottom of a pan would do the trick. It didn’t work and the chicken took a lot longer to cook (because it was so thick) – the exterior ended up being slightly more burnt than crisp but somehow it wasn’t dry!

Things I Googled While Making this Recipe –

  • Difference between regular and sourdough breadcrumbs? I couldn’t find a difference…

Alterations to Recipe –

I had regular breadcrumbs at home and just used those.

Verdict –

DELICIOUS! All of the ingredients used were regular staples in our home but I had never mixed them together before. Mixing the bacon crumbs and avocado paste gave it a fresh and creamy texture. The hot chill sauce was the perfect topping!

Would I make it again? Yes but only once I get my rolling pin back!

Even without the rolling pin, I’m pretty sure I nailed this one!

L2C Challenge – Jamie Oliver 7 Ways – My Kinda Butter Chicken

This week – MY KINDA BUTTER CHICKEN (p. 68)

I’ve been craving Indian food for a while and the thought of filling my home with the smell of fragrant spices was enough to persuade me to try this one!

Ingredients –

  • Skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • Mixed-color chilies
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Plain yogurt
  • Garlic
  • Garam masala
  • Ginger
  • Cashew butter

Difficulty level –

The recipe itself is not difficult. The instructions are straightforward and the ingredients are simple enough that they are easily accessible. The only “difficult” part is some of the expressions that Jamie uses in his instructions (I’m assuming it’s the British background) forced me to read, and re-read, the steps to try to decipher what he meant.

Things I Googled While Making this Recipe –

  • What is gnarly chicken?
    • I always thought of the word “gnarly” as being an adjective that means bad so I was a little confused when Jamie writes to “remove the gnarly chicken from the pan” but, according to Google, “gnarly” can also mean good And apparently it also refers to something that is knotted or twisted and since I had to score the chicken and turn it over a few times, maybe that’s what Jamie meant… I still don’t know.

Alterations to Recipe –

The recipe called for mixed-colour chilies and cherry tomatoes – I couldn’t find either so I just used green chilies and red cherry tomatoes.

Verdict –

I was surprised at how moist and tender the chicken was given how long I had it cooking in the pan – not burnt at all (despite appearances…). I followed the instructions perfectly so I am not sure why I didn’t have any excess sauce like in the cookbook image but the chicken still turned out delicious. Definitely not the typical “butter chicken” flavour I’ve come to expect and, unfortunately, no dipping sauce leftover for my naan bread. So while the chicken tasted great, this is likely one of those recipes that I will not be making again.

L2C Challenge – Skinnytaste One & Done – BOOK REVIEW!

The Skinnytaste series has been around for a long time and I have several friends who love them, so I figured I would give it a try. Obviously, I chose the one whose title promises “one & done” recipes!

The premise of this book is straightforward – every recipe is cooked in one pot. Following that concept, the book’s chapters are divided by different cooking tools – recipes cooked in a skillet, sheet pan, air fryer, slow cooker, etc.

As you may have noticed from my weekly posts, the ingredients in this book were easy to find and the steps were all simple. Even as a newbie in the kitchen, I barely had to look anything up on Google this entire month!!!

I still have a long list of other recipes that I would like to get to in this book. To be honest, some of the most appealing are in the “Air Fryer” chapter, which we don’t have. So I’m keeping a list and once we decide to invest in the air fryer (all of my mom friends say I really need one), I’ll be sure to make my way back to this section of the book. Amongst some of those mouth-watering recipes are:

  • Buffalo Drumsticks with Creamy Cabbage and Kale Slaw (p. 171)
  • Glazed Korean BBQ Chicken Wings (p. 179)
  • Nuggets Three Ways (p. 183)
  • Philly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls (p. 93)
  • Crispy Beach Fish Tacos (p. 197)

Geez… I had to stop writing out my list, there are so many more in this book that look delicious! And now that I’ve actually taken the time to type out some of the air fryer recipes, I’m thinking we’re going to need to get one sooner than later!!!

I highly recommend this book for its clean and simple ingredients and for its easy instructions. I will note, however, that the “one & done” concept is a tiny bit misleading. It is true that the recipes are cooked in one pot but, in many case, lots of dishes are used in the prep stage before the meal actually goes in the oven. So while I wasn’t scrubbing lots of pots and pans for one dinner, I was still doing a fair share of clean up (washing prep bowls, etc.) after each meal. But honestly, don’t let that be a deterrent – I didn’t have any more dishes than other recipes and the simplicity and flavour of this book are worth a try!

Next Month’s L2C Challenge Cookbook:

Next month’s cookbook came about from my days of watching the Food Network. I love when Jamie Oliver is on television showing us how effortlessly he makes all of his delicious dishes… Plus, his accent is nice to hear! And while I’ve been watching Mr. Oliver on tv for a while now, I’ve never owned or tried any of his cookbooks – so I figured now is as good of time as ever to try. Hence, Jamie Oliver’s 7 Ways will be next month’s cookbook!